John McCombe Reynolds (1916-1999), or ‘Uncle Mac’ as he was known by those close to him, was my first mentor in photography although he was new to photography when we met in the 1980’s. We were introduced by our respective families because we were both considered to be artists (artist meaning nonconformist). His studio was at the back of his house in Toronto and was cluttered with projects in the works, abandoned pieces, and any manner of artistic evidence. It was inspirational for me as I had never met an actual practising artist, only hobbyists. Uncle Mac spent an equal amount of time at his old schoolhouse (more than 100 years old) outside of Creemore, Ontario, which he had made into a large open studio. It was a place of quiet for reflection and work.
While spending countless hours with Uncle Mac in his studio, or at his schoolhouse, I learned about lighting, how to use and interpret light, that there are only two considerations for light…. direction and quality. Sculptor and painters mostly use natural light, and see the world through that one light source, usually the light created by the sun. He was particularly fascinated by the portraits done by Nadar. Uncle Mac tore out a section of the roof in his home studio for installation of a skylight to reproduce Nadar’s lighting style. Form, the shape of things, was crucial to his sculpture work and was part of his own photography style. He was able to see the artistic merits in most anything.
Uncle Mac was somewhat technically challenged when it came to photography and the technical process (these were the days of film, long before the digital revolution changed photography), but from him I learned the importance of composition, that an interesting image need not be technically perfect. The beauty of a painting or a piece of sculpture is not in the material used…. these are tools of the process. The end result is a work of art that tells us something, relays an emotion or causes personal reflection. It is something greater than the sum of its components.
These photos are my way of remembering him and his influence on me during those years I was fortunate enough to be in his company.